The water here in Guam is 31◦C!
For a biologist who is still somewhat reluctantly adjusting to the 10◦C water temperatures in Vancouver that make marshmallow-like drysuits necessary for diving, 31◦C water feels more like a bubble bath.
I’m taking a break to dip my feet in the tropical Pacific Ocean and explore the rocky coastline in between lectures at the University of Guam’s Marine Lab, where I’m attending a workshop on coral conservation initiatives put on by SECORE Foundation, an organization committed to coral reef conservation.
Although the surroundings are breathtaking and the rhythmic crashing of waves is serene and calming, I find myself feeling rather unsettled by much of the morning’s discussions.
The coral reefs surrounding Guam, the largest island of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, are disappearing at an alarming rate. In the last 50 years, coral scientists have documented a decline in coral reef coverage from 50 per cent of the total reefs to less than 10 per cent in some areas.
Imagining a world where the only corals are those kept in an aquarium setting isn’t something I really like to think about, but we may be headed in that direction. In losing these vital ocean habitats, we also lose all of the fish and invertebrates that live amongst the coral, like the Picturesque dragonet (Synchiropus picturatus).
But it’s not just the small fish that will go missing, but larger fish as well, such as the blue-lined snapper (Lutjanus kasmira). Once the larger fish become scarce, the food sources that many species in this area depend on will be gone. How would the absence of coral reefs impact the millions of people who depend on the ocean for food and resources? The questions don’t stop there, because the reefs provide more than just food or economic resources. Losing reefs would also mean losing the protection they provide from storm surges. What would these coastlines look like after hurricane season?
These are the types of questions we need to ask ourselves when we think about coral conservation; the stakes are too high not to make a change.
What’s causing the decline in coral? Overfishing, ocean acidification and rising temperatures caused by global warming, pollution, Crown of thorns starfish, and recreational misuse, to name a few. SECORE is bringing together leading coral scientists and aquarium staff (including myself) from around the world to discuss the state of coral reefs in Guam, develop plans for reef rehabilitation and build a coral nursery to help give corals a fighting chance in the future.
Although the sheer number of threats can make saving reefs seem daunting, addressing many of these stressors is possible, even in Vancouver. Although you’re currently 9,000 kilometers away from me, your actions still make a difference in Guam. All of our oceans are connected. For example, you can make sustainable seafood choices by looking for the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise symbol anywhere you enjoy seafood, or participate in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (Sept. 21-29, 2013) to support a healthy marine environment for future generations around the globe.
Guest blog post written by Hannah Evans, senior biologist at the Vancouver Aquarium. This summer, Hannah is accompanying a group of researchers, led by SECORE Foundation, to Guam in the western Pacific Ocean to take part in coral reef research and conservation efforts.